Wednesday, July 24, 2024

Receiver Justin Hardy excelling for Redblacks in 2004 season

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Remember how Justin Hardy needed a fantastic finish to pass 1,000 receiving yards last season?

At the rate he’s going now, the veteran pass-catcher will be in quadruple figures before the halfway point of the 2024 schedule.

Coming off a 47-21 thumping at the hands of the Montreal Alouettes, the 1-1 Redblacks clearly have some issues.

But Hardy, who closed out 2023 with games of 98 and 119 yards, has more than picked up where he left off.

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He is the Canadian Football League’s sixth-leading receiver despite playing one fewer game than anyone in the top 18.

He has 14 catches, seven in each game, for 254 yards and a league-leading 13.4 yards per grab average.

It’s a ridiculously far-fetched notion, sure, but if he was somehow able to maintain the pace he would finish the season with 2,286 yards.

The CFL record of 2,036 yards was set by Allen Pitts in 1994.

“One of my goals since I started playing football is to be better than I was (the season before),” the 32-year old from Washington, D.C. said after the Redblacks’ practice Wednesday. “That (1,009 yards in 2023) is the standard that I set for myself last year. So that’s what I’ve got to top in my mind. My goal is that I want to be better than I was last year.

“I don’t put a particular number on it. I just want to be better than I was.”

In being responsible for almost half of Dru Brown’s 530 passing yards, Hardy has covered more real estate than Dominique Rhymes, Jaelon Acklin, Bralon Addison, Nick Mardner, Ryquell Armstead and Daniel Oladejo combined.

Hardy acknowledges the early chemistry he has with the new quarterback.

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“I would say anytime you get a chance to actually spend the days, practices, games, meeting room and kind of get a bond with people, it’s definitely helping us out on field,” he said. “I would say we are two professionals with a common goal to win, and that kind of helps out everything.”

It also helps that Hardy is a dependable receiver with a history of accomplishments.

In four seasons at East Carolina he had 387 receptions, which was the most in the NCAA’s 100-plus years history until Arizona Cardinals receiver Zay Jones, who was a college teammate of Hardy’s, set the new mark of 399 catches.

A fourth-round pick of the Falcons in 2015, Hardy played 73 regular-season games over five seasons with Atlanta, catching 95 balls for 946 yards and nine TDs.

He also played in Super Bowl LI – when the Falcons’ 28-3 third-quarter lead disappeared. They eventually lost 34-28 in overtime to Tom Brady and the New England Patriots.

Hardy didn’t catch a pass while being on the field for 10 percent of Atlanta’s offensive snaps, but he did return two kicks for 17 yards and made a special teams tackle.

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“I’ve been around a lot of great guys, I’ve played with a lot of great guys,” he said when asked how his past has helped him become the receiver he is now. “So just being a sponge around them, I’m getting the knowledge that I need from them and just carrying it to my game.”

Asked his proudest accomplishment in football, Hardy didn’t hesitate.

“I would definitely say just being consistent,” he replied. “I just like hanging my hat on that.”

He’s the epitome of consistency, if you ask Travis Moore, the Redblacks’ receivers coach and pass game coordinator.

“I mean, he’s a pro,” Moore said of Hardy. “There’s nothing that I have seen different than last year from him. He’s consistent, always shows up early for work. He takes care of his body and he leads the young guys by example.”

Hardy has been targeted 19 times, while Rhymes (14), Acklin (13) and Addison (10) are the only other Ottawa receivers thrown to in double digits.

But he’s also proved to be effective when not targeted.

“You guys probably don’t know this, but we have him cancel out more than anything else,” said Moore. “If he’s running off routes and cancelling out, someone else is getting the ball. He’d be running off routes and, and canceling it out someone else is getting the ball. Every day he prepares himself, when he gets to that field he works hard. I actually have to pull him off some time, just to slow him down, pull him back a little bit. But what he does on the practice field he just carries that over to the game.”

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Moore acknowledges the biggest problem with the Redblacks’ passing game is the dropped passes. The usually reliable Addison was guilty of a couple in Montreal.

More “reps and touches” is what the coach orders up for his guys that are dropping balls in games.

Hardy has a “count me in” attitude towards such extra practice.

“You’ve got his peers just looking at him to see how hard he works,” said Moore. “He’s not one to cry, one to sit down, take plays off. You ask him to block … he does everything and he doesn’t say anything. He’s a pro.”

Said Hardy: “I put a lot of work in, in the offseason, to prepare me for this time. I’m just taking it one day at a time, getting one percent better every day and just letting the game take care of itself.”

GOING DEEP

After a shoulder injury prematurely ended what had been a tough night for Monshadrik (Money) Hunter against the Alouettes, it’s not expected to keep the cornerback out “long-term”, coach Bob Dyce said Wednesday. But it is looking like Argos castoff Tarvarus McFadden, or possibly Sherrod Baltimore, will come off the practice roster to replace Hunter on Sunday at TD Place against the Hamilton Tiger-Cats (7 p.m.).  … Also making an early exit from the Montreal game was WR Jaelon Acklin, who is in concussion protocol but testing shows “things are moving positively”, according to Dyce. If Acklin can’t play Sunday, expect rookie Kalil Pimpleton to make his Redblacks debut … The RedBlacks have added Andre Miller, a 6-foot-2, 224-pounder wide receiver, to their practice roster. Miller was one of Ottawa’s last training camp cuts. “Dre had an outstanding camp, we were very, very excited about him,” said Dyce. “But he ended up getting a little bit if an injury. We knew we would want to see him again at full strength and now he’s at full strength.” … While blaming himself for not having his team start fast enough in the blowout loss to Montreal — and also pointing out the Redblacks beat themselves with turnovers and penalties — Dyce refused to bemoan bad calls or bad bounces. “Referees very seldom are going to determine the course of a game … they are going to do the best job they know how, and you live with their calls and you go forward,” he said. “And a football is an odd-shaped ball, it’s going to bounce different ways. When you face adversity, you’ve got to come back and fight, and I felt in the second half they did that. I’m proud for the type of men that these guys are … good resilience … and that’s why I’m excited for this week.”

dbrennan@postmedia.com

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